Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Wonder of it all....

Several weeks ago I was listening to a clip on NPR about birds. I almost turned it off. Sure, birds can be pretty, sing nicely, fly beautifully, but they can also nose dive at your head and peck at your eyes. I know this is not the popular or even a normal thought that comes to mind regarding birds, but its my own special neurosis, planted here, just for you to mock. So, when I heard that my ride home was to be filled with chirping bird talk, my finger sprang toward the off button. But I didn't press down because just as I reached it, the interviewee said something truly shocking. He was comparing seeing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, previously thought extinct, to seeing the face of God. Did you get that? The face of God. A bird. The face of God.
I found it a little.....fanatical, bizarre, extreme...I found it so many things and they culminated to the point that I just had to listen to the bird show. And I learned that the Ivory-billed woodpecker has been thought to be extinct for many years, but now there's evidence that there are still some in Appalachia. And truly, this man, this bird-stalker, felt that the sight of this bird would be no less awesome and wonderful than seeing the face of God.
I tried to get off my scaredy cat for a second and think about what kind of bird would cause that kind of reaction for me. Zilch. Nada. Not even a really big one....unless it was going to eat me and I was seeing God in my near death experience. But this man was so genuine about his awe...and I wondered if maybe he was right...maybe if I saw this bird, I would feel the same way. Then I realized, I wouldn't even know what I was seeing. To me a bird is a bird and though I might have a pretty strong reaction to seeing something that was once thought to be extinct, I don't have the kind of education that would allow me to know that information.
I spent the rest of the drive home thinking about wonder and awe. I'd have to have an education to know that I should be in awe of this bird. I'd have to have an education to know that I should be in awe of Beethoven's original scribbles. So was that it? Could you only feel awe if you had the knowledge to tell you that something was incredible?
Then I thought of Little A. She knows a lot for a seven year old, but she's seven so there is plenty that she's still learning. Hell, I'm 29 and there's plenty that I'm still learning. But Little A is filled with wonder, so easily and innocently and without much fanfare. A little card-trick. A Santa sighting. A rainbow. Evidence of a fairy house. Many things can set Little A's eyes aglow with wonder. Mostly things that I've learned are really not that awesome, unlike her bright eyes, which are completely magical.
The things that seem to cause us this giddy wonderment are those things that we can't easily explain, that shock us out of our everyday lives for a second and fill us with the interconnections of past, present, and future all at the same time and create an overwhelming sense of magic.
But are there things that are just wonderful, no matter who you are, no matter what you know? Is wonder a translatable language? And as warm and happy as wonder can make us feel, is it safe? Or is it a symptom of not knowing and and a sign of being easily manipulated? Wonder is one of those human tendencies that makes me nervous about religion. The addiction to the high of wonder that can lead anyone to unquestioningly follow one belief or another, follow rules that can be unkind and even brutal, and cling to that sense of something bigger that will take care of everything even as everything is falling apart. An awesome moment can change who you are, but it seems like if it really changes you, it might deserve some questioning.
Maybe wonder should be a controlled substance? Maybe when Benny Hinn fills the crowd with wonder by healing a paraplegic, the wonder police should come out to help the audience question itself out of manipulation. Someone, someone should be there to help us decipher between good, warm, fuzzy wonder and manipulative, staged, and even evil wonder. Who's up for the job?
I think I should call my congressman! Maybe they can create a Department of Wonder Protection. Not that the bill would ever get past Dubya...


Anonymous stella said...

completely unrelated.

i just finished a knit project for my grandmother. a damn took forever. im getting sick of the garter stitch, but can't get comfortable with the FLIPPING PEARL!!!

A neighbor showed me her project...a baby blanket. she was using Debbie Bliss's alpaca silk...and i fell in love. most wool is not so good for me. i could have used this stuff as TP.

She had the cutest pattern with little eyelets...and i just drooled all over the place. I don't think i have the attention span for patterns.

love your stuff! its so addicting.

9:31 AM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

That was a great post. I think your definition of wonder sums it up perfectly: "The things that seem to cause us this giddy wonderment are those things that we can't easily explain, that shock us out of our everyday lives for a second and fill us with the interconnections of past, present, and future all at the same time and create an overwhelming sense of magic."

It's interesting to think about different types of wonder -- there's some sensory involvement, and probably some meaning as well, that causes us to react with wonder when we see/experience something inspiring. But as you said, it can transcend language. Do we have to have awareness, though? Do babies and animals experience wonder?

Hmm... (off to think about this some more)

10:12 AM  
Anonymous V-Grrrl said...

Seeing my kids fills me with wonder over and over again. Their development, their wisdom, their very existence. I cannot believe that my husband and I having sex created these incredibly complex, amazing, physical and spiritual creatures. I never get over the miracle of it all.

10:16 AM  
Blogger V said...

Wow Stella...a throw? I usually stick to smaller items becuase I have the attention span of a gnat. I'm TRYING to finish a blanket for Little A, but its boring me to tears. So what are you going to make next? And thanks! It IS addicting!

Nancy....I wonder what babies experience a LOT. Can you imagine....having to basis for everything that is going on around you? No frame of reference? Maybe it's constant wonder??

V-grrrl....yeah Little A does it to me all the time too. Maybe since kids don't know all the "rules" yet, they still just instinctually shock us?

12:44 PM  
Blogger Ditsy Chick said...

I heard this one on NPR (loove NPR). I think the I would be filled with wonder and think I had seen the face of God when they find the dodo bird. Then, I would really know God has a sense of humor.

4:58 PM  
Anonymous TB said...

This is so thought provoking for me. I spend a lot of time looking for the amazing in the ordinary and searching my day to day experiences for the "wonderful".
It's a promise I made to myself a long time ago.
I think wonder comes from a place inside each individual who is wiling to suspend disbelief, caution and irony and pay attention to the minute details of life that we might otherwise miss. Kids do it naturally, but sadly I think we lose the ability as we get older.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous roo said...

I listened to that NPR show as well. The story gave me hope that we might figure out how to take care of our planet before it's too late. A little hope, anyway...

Joseph Campbell talked about the two faces of God: one beautiful, one sublime. The first inspires a feeling of peace and unity; the second, disintegration and awe. I wonder which face the bird wore.

12:41 AM  
Blogger Moonface said...

very thought provoking...

isn't it great seeing children's innocent eyes just light up with wonder when they see something which (for them) is magical?

2:44 PM  
Blogger RBrown said...

I love this post and need to think about it some wonder, if you will. But initially, I find that I experience everyday wonder at the smallest, silliest things when I get out of my routine. Walk a different way to work. Go to a different place for coffee. I know it's not the kind of wonder you're talking about but still, it makes me think that just getting out of our rut creates a separate kind of wonder worth exploring. Hmmm.

And at the risk of sounding like the cliche non-parent on the post, i used to have a dog, got him when he was a puppy. I know it's not even close to the same as actually having a child but I used to love to take him for walks when he was a puppy because I just couldn't get over how scary and entertaining the most normal things were for him...stairs, loud trucks driving by, etc.. That was my favorite....he'd always stop and look up at me like "WTF?" I kind of hated it when he "grew up" and I stopped getting those looks.

6:00 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

One of the reasons that I spent a chunk of my professional life caring for other people's babies was just this - The wonder factor. When they laughed at me, I was truly the FUNNIEST human on the earth that they had ever seen.

And that wonder is completely expectation free. They are happy when you appear with snack, happy to crawl over you and suck on your chin.

As big people, we don't get enough to feel wonder about ...usually. And it isn't about education, per se. I know some mighty dry Professors. I think it is being open to the curiosity and joy of the unknown and the unexpected.

I still, for instance, get excited at the first real snow of winter.

7:15 PM  
Blogger JayneSays said...

Interesting post! I tend to get a little jealous (and sometimes mocking, but trying to be less so) of people who are able to get swept up in awe and wonder at the slightest things. But then something will catch me off guard and my breath will catch in my throat and . . . DAMN if that isn't awe and wonder all of a sudden : ) It gives me hope for myself, that I haven't become too hardened.

I think we can tell the difference (at least as adults) between authentic and manufactured emotion, when we pay attention.

11:24 PM  
Blogger V said...

Ditsy Chick....Dodo Bird...heehee!

TB...yeah it does seem like we lose it a lot when we get older...but then sometimes it seems even more intense. I'm not expecting it so much anymore since its not apart of my daily life when something really catches REALLY catches me, yuh know?

Roo....yeah I agree! It's so rare to hear stories about something SURVIVING instead of being killed's nice to hear some hope! daughter is defintely the source of most of my gleeful wonder!

Rbrown....Haha! I totally love that WTF face! The cat gets that....but its usually more of a "WTF is your butt needs more cleaning....MORE CLEANING." about the 30th snow? Haha! I love that raw, uncensored, I-haven't-learned-to-control-my-facial-responses aspect of babies.

Jayne...yeah, that's what's hard for me too...not being to cynical to actually still feel it sometimes. And not feel gullible feeling it. Nature can always do it to me....and usually I feel like its pretty genuine. (I hope nature isn't trying to manipulate me!)

7:58 AM  

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